Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Candy Crush Saga. One of these four had to catch your attention. Yesterday on my drive home from work, which albeit is about a 5 minute commute I noticed a phenomenon. While at a stoplight I lost myself in a song, but started to look around wondering who might be pointing and laughing at the guy rocking out to Needtobreathe. But here’s the weird part. No one was looking at me. While we were stopped, for maybe all of about two minutes, everyone I saw was looking at their phone. What have we become? Fifteen years ago I didn’t even own a cell phone and now I have a mini-computer in my pocket. And I was slow to get on the smart phone bandwagon. But now all of a sudden, these things are everywhere…and I mean everywhere.
There is this weird maxim tucked away in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a couple of times that if you weren’t paying attention to, you might miss. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.” – 1 Corinthians 6:12. And then again in 10:23, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.” Now in a way, Paul was trying to relate to the Corinthians licensing their lifestyles that conflicted a bit with their witness. And I get that piece, but I think this might be able to relate to our overstimulated technology tethered culture as well. You will notice in the first reference of Paul’s use that he includes the phrase “I will not be mastered…”. The Greek root of this phrase literally alludes to the loss of the freedom of choice/freedom to choose. And then in the second occurrence we see the insinuation that perhaps these things might be okay, but they aren’t really improving our lives.
In all of this I’m not saying technology is a bad thing. In fact, there are so many benefits to media and technology that for the most part they outweigh some of the negative issues. But think about this with me for a moment. How many of you, when you find yourself in a time of silence/lull immediately reach for that phone? This is where I think the issue may take root. For thousands of years humans have been known for their innovation and cultural achievements. And now, I’m known for my high score on Flappy Bird or Candy Crush!?! The one thing we have that we constantly spend and can never recall is time. And I am scared to think of the hours (maybe even days at this point) I have wasted because of seemingly harmless activity on this miniature computer I keep closer to me than anything else. Maybe these things aren’t so bad…but I think I might need to find out who or what masters the empty spaces in my life and what better things they might be filled with. And I think that if we fill these spaces with more meaningful encounters/endeavors we might be amazed at what we can do and the freedom we find that we have.
This morning as I was pouring over my Twitter feed I noticed something aside from all of the tweeted pleas of school cancellations. I have a lot of cynical voices pouring into my life. Granted, most days I will read a lot of these updates, resonate with them and go on with my day, but today was different. Often times I can get behind the cynicism of the people I follow because I find myself to be cynical as well. After all, I am part of the generation raised on X-Files…”Trust no one”. And I like to think of myself as part of the “mosaic” or “millennial” generation of the church that is seeking change for the good of the Kingdom. But it seems to me that often this “change” that is being spoken of is being ushered in all wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always like some of the main stream methods of doing church or interpreting the Bible or even how Christianity is depicted to the masses, but is cynicism the only way?
In his letter to the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29. I have always loved this verse. And for the longest time I thought it referred to “coarse joking” or “harsh language”, but I think I have found that it really applies more to the disease of cynicism running rampant in some of the young leading voices in the world today. The word the writer uses for unwholesome is sapros. And it most commonly is defined as being rotten or putrid, but it can also mean corrupted by age or worn out. My problem with cynical talk is it is corrupted…worn out. Anyone can be cynical. Really! There is even a school of philosophy (and I know I am going to oversymplify this so forgive me all of my philosophical and theological brethren) called deconstructionism. And the gist of it is to tear down existing paradigms to get down to the root of what is being espoused. But the problem is they rarely have a better alternative.
And I think that is my problem with cynicism in general. It is very easy to tear down existing systems and paradigms. It takes a lot more creativity and work to provide a better alternative. But isn’t that what we are called to do. What comes out of our mouths is meant to be helpful and to build others up around us. Not alienate and destroy them. And that really is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Maybe if we learn to take on speech that is reflective of a hopeful eternal kingdom we would begin to see fruits in a new way. Jesus put it this way, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) This is the fruit of Kingdom speech and life.
So I say Death to Cynicism. May our speech, posts, tweets, texts, etc. reflect the hope to which we have been called. And may we speak life into those around us for the sake of Christ who gave his life for us!
Last night I bore witness to an outpouring of love that I have rarely seen in the church. And the craziest part about it all was that it was all on Twitter. It didn’t necessarily begin that way, but that is where it fully blossomed. Last night I gathered with a large group of people in the home of a family who have been fighting a horrendous battle with cancer for quite some time now. We surrounded the family with prayer and celebrated communion together as a gesture of solidarity and love. But much to my surprise that was only the beginning. I got home about an hour or so later and jumped on Twitter (part of my nightly ritual) and was blown away. All of a sudden students involved in my ministry and students I have never even met had begun a community revolution.
There were countless prayers, encouraging posts, and more all being tweeted on behalf of this family. The local high school, where the oldest daughter attends, was even preparing itself to be awash with Pink the next day to honor the mother’s battle against Breast Cancer. And although their football game for Friday was scheduled to be a “Black Out” all of a sudden it became a “Pink Out”. The local news station even picked up on the phenomenon and aired a news story earlier this morning. And all because of Twitter.
Now I know that in the church we have a lot of discussion about effective ways of spreading the gospel and preaching Christ, but I am reminded of Paul’s writings in his letter to the Corinthian church, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (I Corinthians 13:1). Sometimes I know people have been discouraged by the use of Social Media and are worried about where it might lead. But last night I saw love in the language of my students revealed in one of the most amazing ways possible. Last night Twitter became more than a resounding gong. And it didn’t involve a sermon…it didn’t involve a Biblical exposition…it started with a 140 character limited post and it showed love from a community for a real family in a very real way. And we are all better for that.